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How have the women in Hevra Kadisha’s unit been coping?

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How have the women in Hevra Kadisha’s unit been coping?



In the October 6 Magazine, we published a chillingly prescient three-page article on the holy and challenging work done by the IDF’s special Identification and Hevra Kadisha Women’s Unit, which operates under the Chief Rabbinate of the IDF. We interviewed Sharon Laufer, who recruited the women for the first three cohorts of this unit.

To recap: In the last 10 years, more women have entered combat units in the army, thus increasing the risk of more female casualties. Therefore, the IDF Rabbinate trained women volunteers to assist in the identification process and prepare for the burial of a female fallen soldier, who is called a halala. (A male is called a halal.) All volunteers had previous experience in their local burial societies (hevra kadiska).

This past July, the IDF Rabbinate decided to officially draft and categorize these women volunteers as soldiers serving in the reserves. 

This week, we catch up with Laufer to learn what she and other women in the unit have been doing since October 7 and how they’ve been coping. They have been dealing with IDF (not civilian) casualties.

When were you called up?

Saturday night, October 7. We knew something was happening during the day, so I turned on my phone and got a message that I needed to leave when Shabbat was over. I took one of the other women from Efrat with me. We got to Shura, the facility in Ramla where bodies of soldiers are housed while in the identification process. It was a very difficult sight. Some women had already been working during the day to start the identification process.

THE OCT. 25 funeral of three members of the Sharabi family – Lian, Noya and Yahel – murdered in Kibbutz Be’eri on Oct. 7 (credit: Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

My amazingly strong group of women were waiting for the halalot (fallen female soldiers) with our gowns, gloves, and masks on as we stood in the doorway of our room, in the building that we know so well… the building that we have worked in and trained in.

Nothing prepared us for what came next. The halls were filled with stretcher after stretcher, on which the halalot were waiting to be received at the next station in their journey.

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We worked through the night. I don’t even remember how many hours; I think it was a 12-hour shift, and we were on call for the next two weeks for 8- to 12-hour shifts every day. For me, it was from Saturday night through Thursday, and then I was off for Friday and Shabbat.

The following week, I was doing eight-hour shifts; and in the middle of the week, we started konenut (on-call) shifts from home. By Saturday night at the end of the first week, we had caught up with the quantity of halalot that were waiting to be identified. 

The recommendation was that from Tuesday, October 17, we would have konenut from home, which meant that if I got a notification, I could leave my house in five minutes and get to the base in an hour. 

We have several teams working on a shift basis. Each team stays with the same halala through the whole process from identification to burial preparation, unless the identification happened at the end of the day and went over into the next day. In that case, the team that was on the next shift did the burial preparation.

We were on 24/7 shifts, and the women from a similar unit up North started coming down the second week to relieve some of the women from the central part of the country. Once an identity was confirmed, the families were notified, and then we prepared the body for burial. It’s a process for each fallen soldier that takes time.

I prefer to be on the base rather than waiting at home to be called because, like everyone else, at least I feel like I’m doing something. And even when I’m sitting at home, there is always someone from my women’s team at the base who is ready to receive any halala that comes in.

Can you detail the process?

After reception has recorded their details, we escort the halalot to the next station in their journey at Shura. That will be the treatment room. 

It is not like any other treatment room they [female soldiers] had been in before for a massage, a manicure, or a pedicure. We take care of every halala there, aware of each neshama (soul), but not in a way that any of us or they could have imagined.

In this situation, it is not like with a regular taharah [purification before burial] because when someone dies al kiddush Hashem [for being a Jew], there is no taharah. Everything with blood is buried with the body. We patch up the wounds with absorbent cotton, and then wrap them in the shrouds.

There are many wounds. We treat them as gently as we can. We feel our hearts touching theirs as we wrap them in a linen winding sheet. We then ask for mehila (forgiveness). 

We also look for any personal effects or jewelry that may not have been noticed during the medical examination. These are precious treasures that we can give back to the family. 

We prepare the wooden aron (coffin) that will carry each one to the next station on her journey. The smell of freshly sawed wood will never be the same for me. We lift and gently place each one in her aron and again ask for mehila.

For each one, we pray that our hands have done her life justice. We pray that her death not be in vain, and may her journey toward the light be without pain and may Hashem receive her sacrifice as an unfathomable kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name) and may her neshama find peace. 

I pray also, may our tears and our hearts be healed from bearing witness to their sacrifice.

What about self-care for yourselves and the psychological aspect?

When I’m home, I’m either writing in my journal or being creative in the kitchen. 

On the base, each team has a debriefing at the end of each shift to discuss any problems or difficulties that occurred during that shift. Everyone recognizes the importance of the work being done, and we take care of one another. I’ve made it a point to call everyone on my shift to see how they’re doing. 

Every day there is a mental health officer who checks in with us. Avigayil Bar-Asher, who has been the commander of the unit since 2016, calls us and even calls our spouses to see how they’re doing. We have had many sessions where we were able to speak about the most difficult situations we had dealt with, individually, over the last few weeks. We feel very supported.

During the first week, when I left home in the morning to drive to the base, I got into my car and it still smelled of death and decay from the day before. Each day at the end of my shift, I could still smell it in my hair, my clothing, my shoes. That was really hard because even after I got home, after taking a shower and having a full night’s sleep, I’d get back in the car the following morning and the smell was still there. I couldn’t shake that.

One day I had come home early and I was cooking dinner. I was frying an onion, and it had that same smell! I didn’t know if I could continue cooking. So I looked at the onion and I thought, ‘I’m cooking this for sustenance, and I need to let this association go away.’ And then, after a few deep breaths, I was able to cook and eat the onion. A few days later I cooked more onions and did not have that association.

It’s important to deal with these feelings immediately. When they rise within me, I don’t push them away; I look at them and I confront them and try to see multiple sides of what I’m looking at, with the knowledge of where it comes from – whether from anxiety or fear – and then I need to take it to a place of ‘Okay, I’m doing something healthy for myself or my family, and it’s not associated with this image of death in my consciousness.’

Did you experience a different kind of bonding during this time with your female colleagues?

The regular teams were on call the first week. During the second week, they started bringing in women who hadn’t yet been trained in the identification process, although they were experienced hevra kadisha people. If you’re on a team working with one of the halalot, of course you’re going to form a relationship with all the women on that team. There is definitely a stronger connection among all of us now.

This is a moment and a memory that we will share for the rest of our lives. And just as there is a camaraderie among the women on my team, it also exists with all the reserve soldiers on the base who are doing the same thing with the halalim [the bodies of fallen male soldiers]. There are haredim [ultra-Orthodox], secular, and religious individuals all working together. It’s quite an amazing sight and a true moment of unity. 

The IDF have come to understand that they can rely on this group of exceptional women that is committed, able, and available to help in any way needed. They know they can call any hour of the day, and whoever is available says, “I will come.” 

To each of my dear partners who do this work with me, I want to say thank you for giving me strength in those very difficult moments, thank you for letting me support you and for standing side by side as a team full of courage and dedication. 

You are, each in your own way, women of iron, with hearts of gold and souls filled with light. ■

The writer is an award-winning journalist, director of Raise Your Spirits Theatre, Mikva the Musical, and the Na’na and Hamra Playback troupes, and editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com.





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Iranian FM: Israeli weapons are ‘toys for our children to play with’

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Iranian FM: Israeli weapons are ‘toys for our children to play with’



Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian joked a day after Israel’s strikes in Iran that the weapons used were “more like toys that our children play with – not drones,” according to a Saturday article from Iran’s semi-official Mehr News Agency. 

Making the comments in an interview with NBC News, Abdollahian said “As long as there is no new adventurism by Israel against our interests, then we are not going to have any new reactions.”

Threats against Israel

“If Israel takes a decisive action against my country and this is proven to us,” he said, “our response will be immediate and to the maximum and will cause them to regret it.”

The foreign minister went on to threaten that his comments were only a warning, and that “We could have hit Haifa and Tel Aviv… We could have also targeted all the economic ports of Israel.” 

The IDF displays an Iranian ballistic missile which they retrieved from the Dead Sea after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, at Julis military base, in southern Israel April 16, 2024. (credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

Abdollahian said that the only reason that Iran had not successfully hit Haifa, Tel Aviv or any major port was because Iran’s “red lines [were] civilians…We only had a military purpose.”

A 7-year-old Arab girl was killed during Iran’s mass drone attack which saw hundreds of UAVs and multiple ballistic missiles fired seemingly randomly at Israel. While few Iranian aerial assault weapons successfully hit Israel, one hit a northern Arab village and one hit Arad- which is where the 7-year-old girl was killed. 





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White House urges Congress to quickly send foreign aid bill to Biden’s desk

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White House urges Congress to quickly send foreign aid bill to Biden’s desk



Passing the national security supplemental bills would send a powerful message about the strength of American leadership at a pivotal moment, the White House Office of Management and Budget said in a statement released Friday morning as the House continues debates on rules for proceeding with the bills. 

The supplemental funding package provides long overdue funding to support Ukraine as it continues defending itself against Russia’s brutal war of aggression. Ukraine must prevail, the White House said. 

This supplemental funding also helps Israel protect its people against Hamas and Iran and its other proxies, including Hezbollah.

The White House’s statement

“It is critical that we quickly help Israel replenish its air defenses following Iran’s recent brazen and unprecedented attack and ensure Israel maintains its military edge against Iran or any other adversary,” according to the statement. 

A MURAL in Tel Aviv depicts US President Joe Biden as a superhero defending Israel against the Iranian attack. On the strategic level, Israel suffered a whopping loss as Iran pierced American and Israeli deterrence frameworks with apparent impunity, the writer maintains. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

The funding would also provide urgent life-saving humanitarian assistance for Palestinian civilians in Gaza and vulnerable people suffering around the world, the statement said, as well as critical support to Indo-Pacific partners. 

“The world is watching what the Congress does,” the White House said. “The Administration urges both chambers of the Congress to quickly send this supplemental funding package to the President’s desk.”





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American money ear-marked for PA security used to pay families of terrorists from Jenin – report

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American money ear-marked for PA security used to pay families of terrorists from Jenin – report



The Palestinian Authority’s General Security Service (GIS) has apparently admitted to using American money earmarked for security to pay the family of terrorists from Jenin, according to a Palestinian Media Watch report.

According to the report, on April 4, 2024, PA news agency WAFA published that the GIS in Jenin had given a grant to “the families of the Martyrs and the prisoners from the service’s ranks in the district.”

The GIS gave grants to around 36 families from among the “martyrs and prisoners.”

The vast majority of those identified as “martyrs” or “prisoners” were members of the GIS who had committed acts of terror, according to the PMW.

The grant was given at the direction of PA General Intelligence Chief Majed Faraj, who emphasized a core principle of Mahmoud Abbas: “If we are left with one penny, it will be paid to the families of the Martyrs and the prisoners.”

Taylor Force, 29, was killed by a Palestinian terrorist who went on a stabbing rampage in Jaffa on March 8, 2016 (credit: FACEBOOK)

Taylor Force Act

The US had all but ceased providing funds for the PA after the implementation of the 2017 Taylor Force Act, which blocked all funding for the PA general budget.

The act was named for Taylor Force, an American citizen killed in a terror attack in 2016, where the attacker’s family received money from the PA’s pay-for-slay program.

The exception to this was the funding of the PA’s security sector, which received around $45 million in 2022, according to the State Department’s website.

The PMW says that this money was then used to not only provide funds for terrorists and their families but also to train PA security forces, many of whom end up involved in terrorism, according to PA statements in 2023.

The PMW charge that US funds are now being used to directly fund and train terrorists in the West Bank.





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